Messy Soil: Spolic Anthroposols

Jess Drake
PhD Candidate, The Australian National University

One soil that I don’t think we talk about enough are Anthroposols: human modified soils. They are all around us; in our backyards, our cities, on highways, and on mine sites. The properties of Anthroposols and how we manage them is really fascinating. In particular, I really love working with Spolic Anthroposols.

Spolic anthroposol from Western NSW, Australia (Photo: Jess Drake)

An Anthroposol is a soil that humans have extensively modified. They are usually soils that have been moved around, mixed up, had all sorts of materials added to them, have been made especially for hoticulture, are mineral materials with urban waste, or are 100% made by humans. They have been modified so much, that they no longer represent the original soil in any way.

A Spolic Anthroposol is a soil that humans have modified using heavy machinery (bull dozers, graders). Usually  they are made during construction, mining, dam buidling and other works where lots of soil is moved around. They also usually include rocks and other materials (plastic, plant waste, glass, mining waste) that was not in the original soil.

Sampling a respread Spolic anthroposol that is being used in land rehabilitation. It does not have distinct horizons, and are mixed, unconsolidated materials. (Photo: Jess Drake)

You can usually find them in big heaps, on the side of roads and highways, at dams, in mines, in your backyard, and just about anywhere in cities and towns. It is probably even the soil in your veggie garden.

The nature of the spolic soil is totally random because they have been mixed up, moved around and had materials added to them. At early stages of the soils life, they are completely unconsolidated. They have different soils, colours, pieces and bits everywhere, in no particular order. This in contrast to other soils that usually have clear horizons and that follow standard soil classification systems. Spolic soils are beautiful and every one is unique and interesting to look at.

Spolic soils are very interesting to study because they are non-standard. Most soils can be classified and understood using standard guidelines, methods and classification systems. However, the random nature of spolic soils makes them more difficult to identify and understand. Often, they do not fit inside the standard ways of understanding soils. The EU has special provisions for classifying Anthroposols, and Australia has several categories of Anthroposols in the classification system. Part of my current research has been on determining improved ways to measure, classify and understand these soils.

Spolic anthroposols are important in mine rehabilitation, such as Hylebos Creek gravel mine. The soils are used for revegetation and habitat creation. (Image by Port of Tacoma)

It is particularly important to understand and research spolic soils, as they are often used to restore ecosystems in areas that have had mining, road work, or building. Understanding these soils is important for getting conditions right for plant growth, and the establishment of ecosystems. Anthroposols require individual thought, care and understanding for management. As every spolic soil is unique, you will always come across something new and interesting when looking at them. 

This post was written by Jess Drake, and has been edited by the author from the original at Soilduck.


2 thoughts on “Messy Soil: Spolic Anthroposols

    • John, I am afraid I don’t know. I just used the photo as an example. However, it does look like tree plots. We use mulch and round soil holes dug by mattocks in Australia before planting trees.


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